Defund police?

Discussion including BLM Springfield suggests solutions to systemic racism

click to enlarge A demonstrator in Springfiled holds up a sign with names of those killed by police. - RACHEL OTWELL
Rachel Otwell
A demonstrator in Springfiled holds up a sign with names of those killed by police.

Calls to reallocate police funding have become more pronounced in recent weeks. But what activists are proposing when they say "defund the police" is not always clear.

Planned Parenthood Illinois Action (PPIA) – the political advocacy-oriented arm of the state's reproductive health organization – hosted a discussion July 9 that addressed the idea to defund police and create "concrete actions for transformational change." The online event was the second installment of PPIA's 2020 Election Issues Forum, a virtual series tackling state and national issues.

The panel included co-founders of Black Lives Matter Springfield, Sunshine Clemons and Khoran Readus. The conversation, which took place via Zoom, also included Kelley Foxx of Chicago, husband of the first Black female Cook County state's attorney, and a member of PPIA's board of directors. Foxx noted Planned Parenthood at large had recently taken the advocacy position to defund police and provided context. "There's a fraught relationship between particularly Black people and brown people and the police," he said, making the point that the origin of police was the patrol of enslaved people.

Foxx explained how police have long served to enforce unjust laws that called for segregation and discrimination. "So it's no surprise that we get to a George Floyd (situation) where the rest of America wakes up." Foxx said budgets, considered to be moral documents, have long prioritized law enforcement. "It's been proven that devoting more money to policing and hiring more police and putting more police in urban, Black-dense neighborhoods, that doesn't work," Foxx said.

During the panel discussion, Black Lives Matter Springfield said there's a pervasive sentiment that the capital city is over-policed, especially in certain areas. While Clemons agrees the police are needed, "We want to take some of those things off of their plate that they shouldn't have to deal with. They shouldn't be the first line of defense against a homeless person, or something like that, so there should be alternatives."

Clemons, president of Black Lives Matter Springfield, said the goal is to be proactive in providing resources for those who live in areas that have been chronically under-resourced. "We want to work towards removing the police officers from our school systems," she said. Clemons said putting police in schools doesn't always prove effective in preventing violence such as shootings, but "it does increase the amount of Black and brown children who have a criminal record."

The national Planned Parenthood Action Fund has echoed calls from the Movement for Black Lives, an advocacy group that wants investments in community safety and wellness, including public health. A July 9 blog post states: "Planned Parenthood's first priority is the health and safety of patients, and that concern doesn't stop once patients walk out of a health center." The post explains how public health and systemic discrimination are linked in undeniable ways. Foxx said the goal is not entirely doing away with police, instead divesting and reallocating funds for education and community development. "Let's devote resources to preventing crime rather than responding to it."

Black Lives Matter Springfield vice president Khoran Readus, who worked for the Sangamon County state's attorney office for nearly two decades, spoke of the school-to-prison pipeline, a process which criminalizes the school disciplinary system, pushing students toward prisons. The American Civil Liberties Union points to data from the federal Office of Civil Rights which shows Black students are three times more likely to be expelled than white students and represent about a third of school arrests. Expelled students are more likely to end up incarcerated.

Readus also said police need to do a better job at de-escalating situations and everyone who works in criminal justice needs better cultural sensitivity standards. She also called for a national misconduct database for police officers, so bad officers don't get shuffled from one department to the next. "Historically, practices have been put in place that seem to control and oppress the Black community and further enforce white supremacy," said Readus. Black Lives Matter Springfield said it has been meeting with local law enforcement to discuss these issues.

PPIA's 2020 election series kicked off in June with the mission to "lift up a variety of voices and opinions, and increase voter engagement." The conversation around public health and police was the second in the series. For details about future conversations, which are open to the public, visit ppiaction.org.

Contact Rachel Otwell at rotwell@illinoistimes.com.

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